Saturday, August 18, 2007

Apprenticeship Days (Years!)

I married Arthur when I was eighteen, and by the time I was twenty-nine we had four kids. I remember reading an article by an art critic some years ago in which he addressed a woman painter. He said her work was very promising; she told him she was soon to be married; he said, "Don't breed", and when she took exception to that he said, "See you and your work in fifteen years." That's something women are stuck with, the biological role. In these days it's considered possible for a female to have both a family and a career (at the cost of exhaustion!). However in the fifties and sixties a life outside her family was not an option for most mothers. A social expectation, but a pressure nonetheless.
In my biog with The Wild Rose Press I say "I took thirty years off writing to raise my family". Of course it wasn't that simple. I scribbled intermittently but kids and hubby and house had to come first, and I'm not the efficient sort of person who can slot in time for herself on a regular basis. I had to develop some common sense for a start - I went from being a voracious reader and a day-dreamer to the completely unfamiliar roles of wife, mother and housekeeper. But that was what was expected of women then, and anything else was 'selfish'. My husband, bless him, didn't criticise, but he worked hard and needed support. So during those years I not only filled the domestic roles but unofficial ones as his unpaid secretary in business and nurse during his illnesses. (He'll hate me mentioning that, he's of the generation that considers male illness a weakness.)
So, by the time our daughter, the youngest, married, thirty years had passed. I did start to scribble seriously then, in pencil, in longhand, on paper notepads. Those first efforts are lying around my 'filing system' (several plastic boxes) somewhere, and one of these days I'm going to have to dig them up and see if I can do anything with them. I DID get those articles I mentioned published (one in another magazine is about the difficulties of being a short wife with a very tall husband). I DID get a short science fiction story and an s.f. poem printed in a s.f. fan magazine. No payment, though the chap who put it out sent me a copy of "The Lord Of The Rings", which I'd never heard of before. (This was in 1975, and the book sat on my shelf for 27 years before the first movie came out, when all my children suddenly wanted to borrow it at once!)
I DID attend a couple of creative writing courses, which did my soul good but didn't propel me into professional status. Then between '92 and '96 I wrote - first drafts in longhand, second on a portable typewriter, third (and I thought final), on an electric typewriter - six books. I didn't know a darned thing about markets, so joined the Queensland Writers Centre. The last two books had been romances and QWC are rather 'literary-ily' oriented, so they kindly directed me to a romance writers group.
Through the group and one particularly helpful member, Waveney, I was pointed to Romance Writers Australia and became a member. RWAust run a marvellous program called the Isolated Writers scheme, which links geographically challenged authors to mentors with some experience. The scheme at that time was in the kind, encouraging and enthusiastic hands of Meredith Webber, who writes wonderful medical romances for Harlequin Mills & Boon. She paired me with Adrienne, and Adrienne turned out to be the editor I had always needed. I knew my writing wasn't 'professional' yet had no idea why. Adrienne showed me, with endless patience, support and very gentle constructive criticism. In fact she was too gentle! In that situation the mentor is of course careful not to hurt one's feelings, but I needed someone behind me with a whip! Bless her, she was responsible for my first romance being accepted, we are good friends and she continues to support my work with enthusiasm.
But the story did not end there! It's a hard road to the final print. The book was accepted by a small firm and the owner/editor required changes, polishing, all that sort of thing. I did it all, and corrected proofs (galleys) for the first time in my life. She had it listed for publication, but lo and behold, was unable to continue with her business, which was sad because she had been a great help to several new writers. She didn't leave the book in limbo, but sent it on to another small publisher, one with a more aggressive approach, in Sydney. Who ALSO required changes. That done, I corrected another set of galley-proofs, and the book was actually released in Australia in 2002. Wow! I wrote another for that publisher, but unfortunately, though it had been intended for release in 2004, the new publisher also was unable to establish her business permanently. Which all goes to prove, sadly, that Australia with a population of 20 million, is not able to support a specialist romance publisher.
By this time we had moved to a small country town where we knew no one, but it happened to be fairly in the middle of where our children and grandchildren lived. And at the beginning of 2005 a Writers' Group was started locally by our dear assistant librarian Michelle. Among our members are Tony and Jan, who are published, and Nelma and Dave, who are self-published, (and it's criminal that two such talented people aren't professionally accepted, because they both write brilliantly.) There's also Marion, who has written one book, some poetry and is working on two more books, and some folk who want to write their memoirs, and several other talented souls. That they all live in this rural area, ( Brian moved to Cyprus and keeps in touch!) is indicative of just how many and varied are the rich resources of any community. We have a ball at meetings, we support each other and it's greatly satisfying to have folk around who know what one is on about.
And now one of my older books has been accepted by The Wild Rose Press, after travelling the world by post for many years to publishing houses in the U.K. and the U.S. It's a historical romance called "The Pirate And The Puritan" and will be released as an e-book on September 28th, and in print form in the U.S. in January '08. Hooray, I have (almost) arrived.
I'm glad I had my children before I had a 'career'. They are all great people and successes in their own fields. We get on well with their spouses and the grand-children are a treat, a bonus, and our two little great-grandchildren are jewels. And having a family is a learning and maturing experience like no other. It develops your character, to the point where I would recommend any career girl to have kids first. Of course in this world that isn't always possible, but women have had to wrestle with this problem for years and work out their own solutions. I believe firmly that now as I become older (golden wedding anniversary in two years!) I am a better writer because I have learned more about people, about motives, about the world. What an education! Priceless.

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